International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses developments in the Middle East, the Balkans and around the world. One week after the Russian aggression on Ukraine, IFIMES prepared an analysis discussing some of the most obvious and important aspects and characteristics of the war so far. Some of the most important parts of the text entitled “Ukraine 2022: A Test for the EU and NATO” are published below.
A Test for the EU and NATO
The aggression of Russia on the Ukraine is an event that will mark the future of Europe as well as the global international order. A week after the beginning of the aggression on the Ukraine by Putin’s regime, some of the aspects and characteristics of this military expedition are very obvious and noticeable, along with their international dimensions, reactions and parallels from history.
The most important is the fact that a military operation, a war, is going on, what is without comparison in the modern European history after the end of the Cold War. The aggression and the consequent war present a ruthless, brutal and consciousness breach and neglect of a range of international legal, humanitarian and other rules that regulate relations between sovereign and independent states in international relations. Hence, the aggression is a military act, a precedence that has to be stopped and brought to a standstill, the international mediation and negotiation should be introduced, peace agreement has to be concluded and the responsible persons have to be brought to justice, processed for military crimes they did. European and world political, diplomatic, legal and military history have many tools at disposal for these actions. Here, also lessons learned from the recent past from the dissolution of former Yugoslavia, are highly useful for processing war criminals, as the International Court of Justice in the Hague can serve.
The Aggression, the Aggressor and the Target
The regime of Vladimir Putin has demonstrated aggression on sovereign and independent Ukraine, without any reason, without casus belli and without any effort to try to solve through available international instruments and mechanisms issues they thought should justify their use of military solution. Europe does not know such example after the end of the Cold War. Wars on the territory of the former Yugoslavia that culminated with the war in Bosnia, were part of the events that accompanied the dissolution of Yugoslavia as well as of the broader context of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In this case no such accompanying circumstances exist that the aggressor could refer to. And if they were, war is not the way for seeking solutions.
In addition, the aggressor to be has been continuously claiming, i.e. misleading world public and leaders of the western countries that there will be no war, that troops will pull back from the bordering areas after the end of military exercises, all these often articulated with an extreme cynical tone. When the aggression started, it was declared “a special operation” to avoid in a sarcastic and arrogant way its real meaning.
The attacked state, Ukraine, is the member of the United Nations (UN), the Council of Europe (CoE) and the participating state in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to name only a few of the most important international organizations in which it is active. The aggressor, Russian Federation, is a member of the same these organizations as well. It is important to point out also, in the same frame, cooperation that NATO developed for these two countries: the NATO – Russia Council and the NATO – Ukraine Commission. With this, the North Atlantic Alliance stressed the importance of dialogue and cooperation with each of the countries and expressed its changed way of operating after the end of the Cold War, aiming at strengthening of the dialogue and the enhancement of stability, security and peace, including democracy.
It is also important po bear in mind that Ukraine has been member of the United Nations already during the Cold War, as a part of the Soviet Union (and Belarus as well). After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine and Russia established mutual, neighborhood cooperation that was productive and peaceful. Its peak was reached with the Minsk Agreement in 1993, according to which Ukraine handed over its huge nuclear arsenal to the Russian Federation to be given in return assurances for its security and independency. In addition to this, the signing of the Budapest memorandum under the auspices of the OSCE a year later, upon which Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine became parties to the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), further on stressed the importance of security assurances.
From the military and political point of view, the attack is the continuation of Putin’s politics of destabilizing the area between Russia and the EU/NATO, which is primarily being manifested in creating frozen conflicts by the use of a combined political, military and hybrid activities. With this he is bringing back to life old Brezhnev’s geopolitical doctrines (that justify interventions in fellow socialist states) and sending the message that Russia has not given away its imperialistic tendencies. One could follow the implementation of this approach in practice. The most such outstanding examples are the attack on Georgia in 2008 with the consequent proclamation of the independence of the Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the annexation of the Crimea in 2014, and the current proclamation of the independence of the Donbas and Lugansk regions. Then the de facto occupation of the Transdniestria, where the former Soviet – and the current Russian – troops remained to be stationed since the Cold War time on the territory of the independent Moldova that for this reason chose the status of neutrality as the only country after the end of the Cold War doing so. In all these cases the pretext is the same: protection of the Russian population that is supposed to be under mistreatment of all the hosting states. There is a question, though, what would have happened, if sovereign states would use this approach to attack each other, in particular in cases of multietnical societies.
However, the policy community claims something different: the real target of Putin’s regime are democratic regimes. Democracy as a type of governance is, what the autocratic Russian president can’t stand. His solution to this case is in implementation of methods and tools that were common in international relations in the late Middle Ages and the early New Age. Putin intends to introduce the czarism as a way of governance in the globalized world of the 21st Century, by using the repression of the independent media and civil society. For this purpose, he is misusing multietnical and multicultural coexistence of such heterogenous states as Ukraine is. This is a dismantling of the world order, created after the end of the WWII, which to a certain extent is outdated – but its structural adaptation should be a result of a new agreement, reflecting the changed reality of this century.
Putin is not Russia and Russia is not Putin
The war in Ukraine, its development and characteristics could be better understood while comparing it with experiences and consequences of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The aggressor in BiH was the regime of Slobodan Milošević, who for that purpose used the Yugoslav People’s Army that was already in the process of its meltdown and hence remained with practically only the Serb troops.
But Milošević was not Serbia and Serbia was not Milošević. This in spite of extremely strong regime propaganda machinery that was producing media manipulations, misled and dispersing lies and was to a certain extent and a certain period of time also very successful. For the very same reason it should firstly be clear that also Putin is not Russia and Russia is not Putin. Henceforth, the time will come, when Russia will get rid of its current autocrat and of his cruelty and tradition, and will start a new democratic period, what would provide its future on different background.
Additionally, after a week of fighting it is obvious that the tactic of surprise and swift winning over Ukraine and its institutions with the doctrine of shock, didn’t work. Putin’s Blietzkrieg failed. This is a highly important lesson and a great deal of explanation is in a low morale of the occupying army, in its demotivation and unproper structure that is planned for short land operations. For this reason, a military takeover of Ukraine is not possible. Here, the aggressor can not make use of his some of very sophisticated niche armament that is world’s top, but not appropriate to a guerilla warfare. And it is exactly guerilla fighting that will develop across the attacked state, provided there will be no agreement on cease fire and diplomatic solution, but the continuation of the aggression instead.
If the aggression and the occupation continue, this will lead to a Vietnamization of the Ukraine. Within a military context this means the proportion 1:10 for the occupying forces to have at least theoretical chances to succeed. The American experience from Vietnam proves it not to be possible. And the Soviet – de facto Russian – experience from the Afghanistan that could be comparable with the Ukrainian one, only confirms it.
Also, the Ukrainian authorities and the international community as well have to clearly point out and condemn the engagement of mercenaries from various previous wars in the aggression. Along with this, one should not exclude a possibility that the aggressor would encourage forming paramilitary troops. This could enable him to distant himself from the atrocities and crimes that are already in place and will for sure be processed afterwards, since there is enough of legal practice for this from the legacy of the Balkan wars. It is fully obvious that the brutality is increasing, with crimes against humanity and war crimes taking place. Those, who planned this, and those, who are executing it, will be brought to justice. Highly destructive aggressor’s activities on the battlefield are seen from destroying Ukraine’s world renown cultural heritage and from humiliation of civilian population. Killing of a young Ukrainian biathlon champion illustrates brutality beyond comprehension.
Decisive and broad reaction of the EU and condemnation of war – a test for the future of the EU
The EU reacted fast, quite coordinated and decisive as never before. The scope of sanctions is broad, diverse and works. It confirms what more than hundred years ago Lenin claimed: Politics is concentrated economy. The Russian oligarchs know this the best and it is a question of time, when they will turn against Putin. A range of other activities has been launched, what all confirms that the EU has learned a lot from the past. Even more, if two, three months ago the impression was that the USA and Russia alone will discuss the European security architecture, it is clear now that the EU has become an actor and is moving ahead. All this is logical, necessary and understandable. The EU is demonstrating that with the use of soft power (diversity and scope of sanctions) it is possible to do a lot. One could be sure that its member states will increase their military spending, what the case of Germany already shows. The EU, as an economic giant, has an opportunity to become – with its activities to stop the war in Ukraine – an important factor in the international community.
Sanctions that the EU is increasing, have also initiated a variety of similar measures on other areas of civil society. A range of world’s NGOs, associations and other institutions from culture and sport is closing doors to the Russian sportspersons, artists and others, if they do not want to distant themselves from Putin’s regime. Even not long ago highly popular tours and appearances of top Russian artists are cancelled on a daily basis. This is a clear indication that Russia is heading with this regime towards increasing world isolation. Closure of the airspace, forbidding of landing of aircrafts and harboring vessels in world ports shows the power of civil society.
All these supports and encourages the Ukrainian politics and people in their resistance against the aggressor. Highly important are also, along with this, protests and demonstrations in Russia, organized by the Russian people, civil society, artists and others.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Western Balkans – New Putin’s Target?
The address of the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the European Parliament as well as his signature on the Ukraine’s request for the EU membership will give new impetus to the EU’s enlargement policy. Throughout the previous decade the EU kept on forgetting that enlargement has been a response and a solution to any of its big crises. Hence, the EU has to enhance its enlargement activities. This goes in particular for the enlargement on the Western Balkans. The intergovernmental conferences with Albania and North Macedonia have to be organized immediately and the negotiation process with both countries started.
Also, Montenegro and Serbia should be encouraged to deeper reforms. Kosovo has to be offered much more concrete and exact benefits. Bosnia and Herzegovina is the pivotal issue for the EU because of its past mortgage, when the EU introduced arms embargo on BiH and consequently disabled its right of an independent and sovereign state, member of the UN, to defend itself in 1992. This EU’s stain could be partially removed by its fast stream membership in the EU and NATO. At the end of the day, political will of member states is of key importance for a decision on membership.
The research community believes that the Western Balkans is of even greater importance, since Putin – when he will not succeed in the Ukraine as he believes – is seeking for new targets to try to “compensate” his failure in the Ukraine. These only could be countries of the Western Balkans, namely Bosnia and Herzegovina, and North Macedonia. This possible scenario has to be prevented by all means already now. Sarajevo must not witness another siege and Kyiv must not become new Stalingrad.
The EU has witnessed another experience in this situation – its populistic autocrats that have tried to incite the EU’s value system, mechanism and solidarity from within, have gone underground. All as one are condemning Putin’s aggression and try to portrait themselves as defenders of human rights. They have no other current exit, but this does not mean they have changed their beliefs. For this very reason, the EU has to be on guard towards its inner antidemocratic front and to disable it with all legal tools and mechanism that it possesses and practically hasn’t been using them.
How to go Ahead?
The global democratic front has to be consistent, organized and systematically broadened with an aim to disable Putin and his regime to continue brutality and trample all of the achievements of civilization. This is important not only for this aggression, but also on the long run. When another such autocrat arises, mechanism will be at disposal and ready to process. It will work as a system of deterrence.
The EU now knows how to become a global actor and that its soft power works. Democracy, the rule of law and human rights as the most important and obvious values, that determine our lives, are at stake. It will be won.
With the global support that is being manifested as never before in so numerous ways, the Ukraine will continue, sustain and win, while criminals will be punished. International mediation should be established to organize peace talks, conclude an agreement and implement it. The case of Milošević and his foolish non-compliance to a series of peace agreements that he just signed and nothing more, the international community now knows what to be aware of and how to organize negotiation that will be implemented in practice.
Does the EU have Potential for Positive Changes in the Western Balkans?
Researchers believe that the Western Balkans is waiting for the outcome of the war in the Ukraine. The EU has therefore to introduce sanctions against all, who endanger peace and stability, using the example of introducing them against Putin’s regime. This should also be the case with those members of the Parliament of Republika Srbska that voted in favor of legislation that is targeting the constitutional order of BiH, making its dissolution possible and leading to a secession of the entity Republika Srbska. This would be similar as it was with those members of the Russian Duma that voted in favor of the independence of the so-called Peoples republic of Donjeck and Peoples republic of Lugansk on the territory of independent and sovereign Ukraine.
Destabilization of the Western Balkans started and has been intensified since the public appearance of the non-paper that attributes to the Slovene Prime Minister Janez Janša (SDS/EPP). He will for sure not be able to avoid responsibility if the armed conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina will occur, what is becoming increasingly likely scenario after the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. At the same time, European leaders from Viktor Orban’s group have to be uncovered. Orban is the key Putin’s operational player in the EU and NATO, coordinating their numerous activities from Budapest, while their connections with Moscow are either direct or covered.
Orban’s group of associates, popularly named “The Criminal International” is now trying to hide their connections with the regime of Putin. The initiative of the Slovene Prime Minister Janez Janša and the Polish one Mateusz Morawiecki that the Ukraine as well as the Western Balkans should be accepted in the EU membership on a fast track, is plain bluffing. Janša and Morawiecki and their Governments namely all the time behave within the EU on a subversive basis. Additionally, various non-papers that brought situation in BiH to the edge of war, attribute to Janša, whereas the Polish secret service, in cooperation with the Croatian pandan SOA, continuously works against Bosnia and Herzegovina, imaginatively presenting its bare two million of Bosnjaks as the Islamic menace that is supposed to threaten the EU and its 500 million inhabitants.
These all confirms the fact that the EU is infected with corruptive-lobbying activities of Russia that has almost paralyzed the EU and to much extent also NATO, having in mind the traditional split of the EU because of various interests of their member states. For this sake, the corrupt circles in the EU try to manifest their illusionary adherence and loyalty to the EU and NATO with nonsense initiatives, all with an aim of hiding their cooperation with the Putin’s regime and his corrupt network. This is also supported by the fact that the same company opposes the introduction of the EU sanctions against Milorad Dodik, Putin’s proxy in this part of the world.
There is a strong belief on the side of various policy experts that the EU should urgently introduce sanctions against Milorad Dodik and everybody that is threatening the constitutional order of BiH as well as against promoters of crime and corruption. The High Representative in BiH Christian Schmidt should dismiss from the office Milorad Dodik. His power rests only in the fact of being part of the state’s institutions, what enables him to be in control of enormous amount of public money, which is he using also for the corruption purposes of the EU officials and other international representatives. The High Representative Schmidt should take the decision to forbid everybody, who has been convicted for war crimes and the crime of genocide, to run for public positions.
One issue should additionally be kept in mind here: Budapest coordinates the so-called operation Fortress with an aim of crashing the economic system of the Federation BiH and its Prime Minister Fadil Novalić. The EU and NATO have to stop the intelligence operation Fortress against Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is coordinated from Budapest, Hungary, both the EU and NATO member state. Ever since the parliamentary elections four years ago, the new Government of the Federation hasn’t been formed according to the election results from 2018. Neither new judges of the Constitutional Court of the Federation have been elected for several years nor the President and two Vice-Presidents of the Federation. In parallel, Milorad Dodik has taken care of the continuation of the intelligence operation Fortress trying to achieve that the foreign exchange reserves of the BiH Central Bank will be forwarded to entities, accomplishing that way the crash of the monetary system of BiH.
The decision of the previous High Representative Valentin Inzko to forbid the denial of genocide was only an excuse for Dodik to boycott participation of representatives of Republika Srbska in the BiH institutions as well as for the announcement of adopting the package of laws in the entity Republika Srbska with an aim to take away state prerogatives of BiH and to deliver them to Republika Srbska.
Dodik is ready to proclaim the independence of Republika Srbska and following the example of Donjeck and Lugansk ask Russia for help and protection. Now it has become clear that this is a part of a broader and coordinated project that is directly linked with the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. The Western policy has after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 witnessed a collapse that has to be stopped now. Even before this it should have a look at its own composition and check the loyalty of the EU and NATO members. Russia will get stuck in the Ukraine, what’s the reason why it is looking for a “solution” in the way to initiate new conflict, now in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It remains to be seen, who will start it – and take over the responsibility and consequences for the beginning of the war. It is time for the West and the EU to finish its failed policy towards the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe.
Ljubljana/Washington/Brussels/Kyiv, March 7, 2022
 IFIMES – The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, has a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)/UN since 2018.